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An Exchange between Bakebillah, Md, Project Holder of Women Leaders and Suditpa Roy

With: Md. Bakebillah Berkley Center Profile

February 10, 2022

Background: In the context of the European Union funded AHA! Project (Awareness for Human Action), Md. Bakebillah responded to questions posed by Sudipta Roy, WFDD, about the project experience, set in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. He was one of the recipients of a small grant under the project to address communication issues, a project that focused on women. He preferred the format of a written exchange that focused on the challenges of communication and misinformation during the COVID-19 emergencies, in Bangladesh.

Sudipta Roy: What were some of the early experiences that inspired you to start working on COVID-19 related mis/disinformation in Bangladesh?

I have seen so many incidents in Bangladesh that occurred due to misinformation. The COVID-19 case was a very terrible issue when it was spreading out throughout the world in 2020. There was so much coronavirus misinformation that was spread in our country and people were so afraid by hearing this fake news. This news was spread mostly via social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Even in my home town, people used to follow many traditional treatments and medicine for the remedies from coronavirus. As the news of the coronavirus was spreading out as a very serious issue, people were in so panic. I have experienced these incidents a lot.

Which social demographics did you work with/work for and why?

We have targeted college and university female students as the beneficiaries of our project. They were selected as Peace ambassadors and later they were given some assignments and tasks that they have performed at their village and community level. So, the root-level people were also our indirect target audience. We are very much conscious that if we learnt or are aware of our varsity students, they may be better able to contribute more to their respective communities. All the female beneficiaries were from several universities and backgrounds.

Please tell us about your project in a nutshell.

Our project was basically on developing women’s leadership for the betterment of the community. We do this by providing various training and capacity development programs to the young female students (university and college level) and also we teach them to recognize and be aware of social problems and let them work on those issues. For instance, there were so many problems during the COVID-19 pandemic situation. People faced many different problems. These young women leaders identified those social issues and worked on them. They also did it practically in their community with the root-level people. This is how our project worked and we are happy that now we have almost 70 active young women leaders.

What motivated you and what inspired you during your work?

Working for community issues that people of all ages and especially women are facing inspired me a lot during our project period. Moreover, working with so many young change-makers has been a wonderful opportunity for me and I am so happy for them. They all have so much potential and each of them has huge amazing plans for the development of the community. So, these things inspired and motivated me a lot.

What kind of challenges did you face during your project work? How did you overcome them?

We faced so many challenges during our project period. Because there was a pandemic situation and we could not do our activities offline and therefore could not connect some of our root level participants because of limited internet connections, and availability of mobiles or laptops. Finally, we tried to reach the root level people through our amazing young participants.

What is your opinion on the gendered aspect of the pandemic and vaccination in the context of Bangladesh?

I think the government of Bangladesh is providing vaccination to people from all backgrounds and genders. But it seems some community people are not having vaccination due to information and communication gaps. Much is needed to ensure that all people can get the vaccination as soon as possible.

How can religious communities accelerate or undermine public health campaigns such as yours in Bangladesh?

Religious communities can play so many roles in accelerating public health campaigns. A religious leader can do it as well just by announcing the public health issue and health protocols during pandemics to increase the awareness of the people. When people hear from a person like them they will keep faith in it and thus these campaigns will bring positive changes. They also can make people aware by distributing leaflets. We saw that in the early phase of the pandemic some religious leaders spread some misinformation about the pandemic and public health through social media and others.

As a youth leader yourself, what would be your suggestions to other youths of Bangladesh who are enthusiastic about promoting positive messaging and countering mis/disinformation in the context of the pandemic and beyond?

Youth can play a very important role in promoting positive messages and countering misinformation. I have noticed that in some areas and villages; youth who are students or taking any educational degree are treated like educated people in the villages. So, village people trust their opinions and rely on them. In this case, youth can use it positively. They can teach and make the village people aware of the misinformation and its negative impact and I think it will be effective. Those youth can engage more youth and they together can initiate many programs and thus can work. Moreover, social media can be a great way for contributing good vibes and can protect misinformation.

So, these would be my suggestions for the youth of Bangladesh.